Music

Islet Strike a Balance on 'Eyelet'

Photo: Rhodri Brooks / Courtesy of Fire Records

Welsh trio Islet's third album Eyelet is, for the most part, an engaging and contemplative journey through ethereal psychedelic pop.

Eyelet
Islet

Fire

6 March 2020

Islet's latest album is difficult to pin down by design. The Welsh psychedelic pop group's third record Eyelet begins on the slow thermometer-build of "Caterpillar", with an earnest guitar line flowing into a wash of synths and bass. "Alive / How I want you / I feel you," vocalist Emma Daman Thomas murmurs over the sound, a small blessing for her unborn child. The metaphor is clear enough in this track, but it's important to note "Caterpillar" isn't necessarily a celebration of new life, or an anxiety-laden dirge despite it. It's an indication of what's to come on Eyelet, a meditative little album less interested in hitting dramatic beats than opening and sustaining soundscapes.

A large part of Islet's charm, running through their first two albums Illuminated People and Released by the Movement, relies on their ability to graft familiar structures to new contexts. You could have recognized Islet's shared DNA in Tune-Yards, or even a pre-Innerspeaker Tame Impala, marrying a forthright earthiness to dizzy indie-electronica. But Eyelet affords the trio a more immediate kind of contemplation, allowing their sound to take on greater resonance than it's sought before.

Remarkably, Eyelet isn't a heavier or more apprehensive record, considering the circumstances it came about in: just before the recording sessions, as Emma and Mark Daman Thomas welcomed their new baby into the world, bandmate Alex Williams lost his mother. All of Eyelet sounds as though it's seeking equilibrium in this wake, a balance between life and loss that rejects neither.

Tracks like "Good Grief", "Sgwylfa Rock", and "Clouds" walk this line with an irreverent poise, as they mix lush and joyous sounds with yearning lyrics. The rippling synths and tumbling percussion give foundation to the longing in Emma Daman Thomas' voice, tethering the album to the earth even as it pulls skyward. "Geese", the album's seven-minute-long psychedelic centerpiece, is the clearest and most gorgeous Eyelet's mission gets. Daman Thomas' floaty "Be my paradise" soars over the song's smooth-shifting tones and textures, collapsing time and geography into a loving voyage. It's pleasant enough to zone out to, but it's also a microcosm of why Eyelet works when it does, how it rewards a listener for holding tight to the real behind the ethereal.

The problem is that Eyelet's ethereal ends up taking up as much room on the album as the real, to the detriment of both. Many of the songs feel frustratingly reaching in deflating departure from the confidence of the first half. "Radel 10", a punchy track whose production lives up to its namesake, should hit much harder than it does, but the lyrics feel oddly lost in the sonic shuffle. The lyrics "Or shall I go back where / Or disappear / No" ought to strike a particularly bitter chord on "Radel 10", and the trio do their best to mix in the political here and in "No Host", but the words and their weight get lost in Islet's dedication to cultivating soundscapes. The gloriously gloomy "Moon" and jaunty "Florist" struggle with much the same, stranding abstract verses in dense sound. Balance is a tricky thing, and Eyelet is an album about the difficulty of finding balance. It's something of a letdown that the listener gets just as muddled in that search as Islet does.

But it's important not to mistake Eyelet's opacity for disinterest. On some level, it's the point: Islet's more interested in unfurling their sound here than demanding a definite grip. As Eyelet pieces through grief, belonging, and desire (that last one especially, on delicate album closer "Gyratory Circus"), you get the distinct notion these songs aren't subtle discrete moments, but instead lovingly-constructed parts of a greater whole. For what it's worth, Islet's intention is crucial here—and refreshingly genuine.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Film

Nazis, Nostalgia, and Critique in Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit'

Arriving amidst the exhaustion of the past (21st century cultural stagnation), Waititi locates a new potential object for the nostalgic gaze with Jojo Rabbit: unpleasant and traumatic events themselves.

Television

Why I Did Not Watch 'Hamilton' on Disney+

Just as Disney's Frozen appeared to deliver a message of 21st century girl power, Hamilton hypnotizes audiences with its rhyming hymn to American exceptionalism.

Music

LA Popsters Paper Jackets Deliver a Message We Should Embrace (premiere + interview)

Two days before releasing their second album, LA-based pop-rock sextet Paper Jackets present a seemingly prescient music video that finds a way to ease your pain during these hard times.

Books

'Dancing After TEN' Graphic Memoir Will Move You

Art dances with loss in the moving double-memoir by comics artists Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, Dancing After TEN.

Music

Punk Rock's WiiRMZ Rage at the Dying of the Light on 'Faster Cheaper'

The eight songs on WiiRMZ's Faster Cheaper are like a good sock to the jaw, bone-rattling, and disorienting in their potency.

Music

Chris Stamey Paints in "A Brand-New Shade of Blue" (premiere + interview)

Chris Stamey adds more new songs for the 20th century with his latest album, finished while he was in quarantine. The material comes from an especially prolific 2019. "It's like flying a kite and also being the kite. It's a euphoric time," he says.

Music

Willie Nelson Surveys His World on 'First Rose of Spring'

Country legend Willie Nelson employs his experience on a strong set of songs to take a wide look around him.

Music

Gábor Lázár Is in Something of a Holding Pattern on 'Source'

Experimental electronic artist Gábor Lázár spins his wheels with a new album that's intermittently exciting but often lacking in variety.

Music

Margo Price Is Rumored to Be the New Stevie Nicks

Margo Price was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots. But she was always more rock than country, as one can hear on That's How Rumors Get Started.

Music

DMA'S Discuss Their Dancier New Album 'The Glow'

DMA'S lead-singer, Tommy O'Dell, discusses the band's new album The Glow, and talks about the dancier direction in their latest music.

Music

The Bacon Brothers Deliver Solemn Statement With "Corona Tune" (premiere + interview)

Written and recorded during the 2020 quarantine, "Corona Tune" exemplifies the Bacon Brothers' ability to speak to the gravity of the present moment.

Music

Garage Rockers the Bobby Lees Pay Tribute to "Wendy" (premiere)

The Bobby Lees' "Wendy" is a simmering slice of riot 'n' roll that could have come from the garage or the gutter but brims with punk attitude.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.